Over the weekend, my Facebook and Twitter news feeds were full of stories about President Obama and his seeming disdain for stay-at-home moms. Dozens of stories were posted across a multitude of websites, and most of them were vitriolic, filled with dramatic accounts of the President’s apparent derision for moms who didn’t work, along with passionate declarations of support for SAHMs.
Before I proceed, let’s make two things clear: First, I am no fan of the President, for a variety of reasons, and I am not one who rushes to defend him. Second, I absolutely admire, respect, and identify with moms who choose to stay at home and raise their children, forgoing the workplace while their kids are young. I personally stayed home with my son for years before he entered kindergarten, and was home with my daughter for her first two years as well. I truly loved being home with my children and applaud other women who choose to stay home with their kids, too. If I had it to do all over again, in fact, I would have liked to stay home even longer. Truth be told, if a wealthy benefactor appeared at my doorstep today, willing to give me the equivalent of my teaching salary to be at home again, I would do it. I loved being a homemaker.
That being said, I believe Obama’s intentions were at best misunderstood and at worst, willfully misinterpreted. One site actually accused Obama of wanting to destroy families, saying they were “disgusted” by his statement on affordable child care and preschool programs. While they-and others-ratcheted up the sensationalism, Breitbart emerged as the voice of reason, relating Obama’s message with the necessary context. The line that has so many up in arms has often been shared as follows: “Sometimes, Mom leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids…That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.” That would be insulting and infuriating, if it were what he said, but it isn’t. He said, “Sometimes, someone, usually Mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result,” he said. “That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”
Even this statement is enough to anger a lot of people, as it still appears he doesn’t want Mom leaving the workplace, but again, broader context gives a different meaning to his words. The full statement, just under 90 seconds, is as follows:
What the President was trying to point out is that many parents across the country pay more to send their kids to daycare or private preschool than they would to put those same kids in a state-funded university. He isn’t wrong. I spent nearly a thousand dollars a month on child care my first year back at work when my daughter was still young enough to be charged the infant/toddler rate. I made enough at my job to afford that rate and still have money to bring home each month, but not everyone has a job that pays that well. This is what the President was getting at in his statement. He noted that many times, a parent (typically Mom) will basically be forced to stay home with the kids because it makes no financial sense for her to go to work when her entire paycheck goes to preschool and child care costs. He was lamenting that women who did not want to stay home were having to stay home because they couldn’t find affordable child care programs, or that they had “no choice but to put their kids in cheaper day care that maybe doesn’t have the kinds of programming that makes a big difference in a child’s development”. When I first looked for childcare for my kids, I toured a variety of facilities and can say that I witnessed some of these sub-par programs firsthand. Fortunately for me, I made enough money to choose a good provider for my kids during the time that I didn’t stay home with them myself.
Some people take umbrage at the idea that there are women out there who prefer to work and don’t wish to stay home with their children. They can choose to be offended, and the moms who want to work can choose to do what works for them. That is neither here nor there. The point is, conservatives need to pick their battles and not make mountains out of every molehill that arises. There are plenty of areas where conservatives can legitimately take on the President, but I don’t think this is one of them. While I do disagree with his statement that women who stay home with their children make less money “for the rest of their lives” (this has not been my experience), I still don’t think this speech was particularly offensive. In this case, Obama was not attacking stay-at-home-moms as a whole. He was making a case for more affordable early childhood programs so that parents who want to work can afford to work and still send their kids to quality providers.